WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for "The Chicago Way," the latest episode of "DC's egends of Tomorrow."
While the midseason finales of "The Flash" and "Arrow" were heavy on drama and heartache, "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" provided an episode of a different sort. There was still plenty of excitement and a little pathos, but for the most part, "Legends" offered more of the fun, punchy energy that's made its second season such an improvement on the first. That's due in no small part to two guest appearances from Arrowverse regulars, but also because, no matter how dire things get, "Legends" seems to have a knack for keeping things at least a little light.
"The Chicago Way" begins by revisiting a few continuing plot points, namely the appearance of Stein's daughter (and time aberration) Lily, and the continuing rivalry and bromance between Ray Palmer and Nate Heywood. Just as Jax begins to press Martin about Lily, pointing out that eventually Gideon or Sara will realize there's an aberration, an alarm goes off and Gideon announces there's an aberration. That's just one of several quick punchlines throughout this episode, and it's pretty darn effective. Follow that with Stein's delighted relief when the aberration isn't his daughter, and you have a solid beginning to a solid episode.
From there, it's off to 1927, where Al Capone meets some visitors new to Chicago. When the mobster doesn't respond well to the offer of help from Damien Darhk and Eobard Thawne, a little speedster action changes his mind. They've come to warn him that some strangers are coming to town, and the three of them want to help him keep his business. The third: Malcolm Merlyn, who strolls up looking like he owns the place. John Barrowman's appearance is a welcome one, as Merlyn always means bad decisions, off-kilter menace and lots of leather gloves.
Much of this episode involves the Legion of Doom double-crossing the Legends, who don't realize something's afoot until it's too late to do anything about it. First up: Eliot Ness. Ever the historian, Nate believes the not-yet-famous U.S. Treasury agent may be in danger -- a problem, as he's due to seize the ledger that will lead to Capone's eventual takedown. Palmer and Heywood manage to screw things up, and they head off to rescue Ness before he meets a watery doom with concrete shoes, and after some Legends vs. gangsters action, they leave with Ness's waterlogged, unconscious body in tow. Seems like a win, but Darhk and company appear pretty thrilled too, so clearly, all is not well.
If this episode has an issue, it's that it's difficult to believe these intelligent people would believe things would happen so easily. They're tricked repeatedly, but it's likely that the audience wasn't. It doesn't help that the infighting and distractions keep them slightly scattered, but even given their previous missteps, does anyone think for a moment that Sara Lance would fall for this kind of thing, not once, but repeatedly?
Fast forward a bit, and the Legends are infiltrating one of Capone's clubs and pretending to be G-Men. This, of course, is the real end- ame, to get the Legends in the same place so Thawne can speed away with Stein and Sara. Rory and Amaya are back on the Waverider, and Rory's having conversations with an imagined Leonard Snart (welcome back, Wentworth Miller!) When Jax, Palmer and Nate return, they fill in the others and prepare to fire up the speedster gun. They're still missing a plan, but Rory steps up and proposes an idea: to take down criminals, they need to act like criminals. It's perhaps the most fun Mick Rory has ever been, so cheers to actor Dominic Purcell and episode writers Sarah Nicole Jones and Ray Utarnachitt
Reformed criminal Sara Lance is being held captive alongside Dr. Stein, with whom she's having a heart to heart that's interrupted when Merlyn strolls in. He offers Sara a trade: If she gives up the amulet (stolen in the previous episode), he'll create a Flashpoint for her because, oh, by the way, he blew up the Queen's Gambit (not news to "Arrow" fans, but news to her) and he can go back in time and erase that particular project. She passes, thanks to Stein's advice in weeks previous, and that's when he spills his particular beans: He thinks she's unusually strong to have passed up such an offer, because he can't bear to erase the daughter he never had.
This is a terrific scene -- no surprise, as Victor Garber is a "Legends" MVP, as is Lotz. Stein talks about the memories he's acquired, and though he may not have lived them, they belong to him now; they're part of him. Sara pushes back that time is sacred, although she's visibly moved. But before they can continue the conversation, Damien Darhk arrives to tell them he's going to torture the location of the amulet out of them. Sara shrugs it off, but they're not going after the assassin -- they're going after the professor.
Elsewhere, the Legends have embraced the criminal mindset, and they steal a Capone-bound car from some other thugs (a really fun, if brief, scene). They reach the place the two are being held, find Sara immediately, and proceed to search for the ledger, which they also find immediately. Some of the Legends exit with Stein in tow, they defeat Capone in about three seconds, and they're off. Guess what? Another trap. This is, if not a standout episode of "Legends of Tomorrow," a pretty darn good one, but the idea that all these smart people would fall for all these things boggles the mind.
Back on the Waverider, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that there's something off about Stein. A suspicious Jax watches him on the security cameras, and sure enough, Stein starts speeding around, because he's not Stein, he's Eobard "I looked like Harrison Wells for a real long time" Thawne. Thus marks the start of a fight scene that's among the best "Legends" has done, including Amaya and Rory on Thawne (criminal style), Jax and Palmer on Thawne, Nate and Palmer on Thawne, and Sara and Malcolm Merlyn trying to see which one of them is the best alum of the League of Assassins. In the end, Sara bests Malcolm, who says he can kill her, but she'll never know what became of Stein.
They trade the amulet for Stein, of course. There's not a ton in the way of theme here, but family above history comes close. Sara shows up to save the good professor from his concrete shoes, and the show jumps to Amaya and Rory, an unexpected pairing, but not an unviable one. She gives him some prohibited booze and a kiss on the cheek, which he then discusses with imaginary Snart, who says dying for your friends isn't as nice as you'd think, and that Rory had better be careful. I have no idea where this story is going, but more, please.
Speaking of dying for your friends, the Legion of Doom needs to find Rip Hunter. It turns out the two amulets are actually one compass, and it points toward the Spear of Destiny (said to have pierced the side of Jesus Christ). The compass alone isn't enough, however: They need Hunter. It turns out he's a film director in 1967. This is a very clever piece of misdirection, and it'll be tough to wait until January to find out what he's doing in the '60s with an American accent.
All in all, a solid midseason finale of a much-improved second season. Hurry back, "Legends"!
Airing Thursdays at 8 pm ET/PT on The CW, “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” stars Brandon Routh as the Atom, Victor Garber and Franz Drameh as Firestorm, Caity Lotz as White Canary, Maisie Richardson-Seller as Vixen, Dominic Purcell as Heatwave and Nick Zano as Citizen Steel.